Odell’s St. Francis House closes

St. Francis House has closed.

After a limited summer program that mostly consisted of off-site outings due to lack of building space, the Odell youth center officially closed its doors at the end of August.

“The school district needed to have that space at Mid Valley,” said Pat Rawson, St. Francis House director. “We totally understood — they’re busting at the seams, student-wise.

“We had been given incredible hospitality, being able to use the old gym and stage without utilities or rent … for the last five or six years,” he said.

St. Francis House officially opened on Oct. 4, 2008 — the Feast of St. Francis — and was originally housed in downtown Odell. The program moved to Mid Valley’s old gym in 2012. But the gym is no longer available, as it is needed for classroom space.

“The old gym is being used for music class every day,” said Mid Valley Principal Kim Yasui. “We had to move the music room upstairs because we have added three additional classrooms due to enrollment and class size.”

The old gym is also slated for a seismic upgrade and remodel this spring, she said, which would have necessitated the center’s move anyway.

A youth center was identified as a need in 2006 and 2007 under Ford Family Foundation LEAP studies, where more than 130 individuals came together to envision a more prosperous Odell community, according to a 2011 News article.

“They identified three or four areas that would address the needs of the Odell area, like housing, a medical outreach clinic and a safe place for children,” Rawson said. St. Francis House opened as a response to those meetings.

But since St. Francis House opened, more quality after-school programs have been created.

“Overall, the attempt was to create a safe place where it’s easier to be good,” Rawson said, “trying to provide really positive role models for the kids, and also enrichment like going to museums or to the coast.

“Many times, kids in Hood River have access to those enrichment opportunities and after-school programming, but Odell does not. So we were trying to fill that gap.”

Rawson estimates an average of 200 youth participated in the program each year — and some of its earliest participants are now adults.

“I see kids in town that are in their 20s and fondly remember their days at St. Francis House,” he said.

The future of St. Francis House is still up in the air, although Rawson feels the likelihood of it starting up again is limited. It is still a registered nonprofit through the end of the year, but because a building wasn’t available, they did not apply for a Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest member. A JVC member has staffed the program since 2012; before that, it was AmeriCorps volunteers.

“We’ve been an all-volunteer program from the beginning. We’ve never had a payroll,” said Rawson.

There have been too many donors and volunteers to list, but the support St. Francis House has received was “incredible,” he said. “We’ve had support from Providence Hospital, Knights of Columbus, Missionary Alliance, private donors. The Prevention Coalition and Maija Yasui. And of course, the Jesuit volunteers is a huge one.

“United Way grants were incredible — most of the years, they’re the ones who covered the cost of our Jesuit volunteer. It’s $9,000 a year for that position,” he said. “And then we had a lovely couple in Odell who would show up once a week with home-baked cookies. The kids fell in love with them.”

Aside from providing immediate after-school supervision and activities for youth, Yasui said Rawson was the inspiration behind current programming at Mid Valley and other Hood River County School District sites.

“St. Francis House provided years of enrichment activities to children in Odell, long before Mid Valley was able to provide regular after-school programming,” said Yasui. “They saw a need and filled it as well as inspired our school to look for ways to expand our day.

“Without St. Francis, Mid Valley would never have gone after our first 21st Century Schools grant (that formed the basis for ExcelPlus programs at Mid Valley, Parkdale and Wy’east).

“Pat has given to our school and community in so many ways, and we can’t thank him enough for all he has done. What he built with only his vision and inspiration is remarkable,” she said.

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